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HBO Max's death may be exaggerated — Discovery Plus merger coming [Update]

HBO Max and Discovery
(Image credit: HBO Max; Discovery)

Update: More HBO Max bad news - new movies no longer guaranteed.

If you love HBO Max like we do, you've probably been quite stressed. This week has seen a nightmare situation emerge for the impending combination of HBO Max and Discovery Plus. But in the Warner Bros. Discovery Q2 Earnings Call today (Thursday, Aug. 4), we got reason for measured optimism.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated following the Warner Bros. Discovery earning call. And we have a full breakdown of the HBO Max and Discovery Plus merger and what it means for you.

Yes, in case you haven't heard, the Discovery acquisition of WarnerMedia from AT&T, which led to the mouthful of a new name Warner Bros. Discovery, meant we're going to be getting one service that combines the two. Or so we thought.

HBO Max got prominent placement in the Warner Bros. Discovery Q2 earnings call

After WBD CEO and president David Zaslav spoke to "combining the rich legacies" of Warner Bros. and Discovery into a single company, he reiterated the intent to "bring HBO Max and Discovery Plus" into a single offering. But the bigger moments came from J.B. Perrette, CEO and President of Global Streaming and Games. 

While Zaslav Perrette both explained that we'll need to wait for the Investors Day event planned for the end of the year, Perrette and his slides pushed HBO Max far harder than you might expect given the concerns about HBO Max being shrunk down to a simple HBO.

A slide previews a Global Product with HBO Max and Discovery Plus

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Discovery)

A slide for a Global Product showed large HBO Max and Discovery Plus logos, with bullets underneath declaring they will live under a "single global brand." Interestingly enough, the service will have both "On demand & live" capabilities, as well as "Ad-free, Ad-lite and ad-only options." There will be multiple tiers, which apparently will add sports.

Later on, one exec said they would be "doubling down" on HBO, another reason to think HBO Max has a strong future.

A chart analyzing the schedule for the roll out of the global product that combines HBO Max and Discovery Plus

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Discovery)

Then, another slide showed WBD's schedule for both services, explaining that the U.S. will get the service first, in summer 2023. It will debut in Latin America that fall, in Europe in early 2024 and in the Asia-Pacific markets in the middle of 2024.

All of the prominent HBO Max branding placement in this presentation suggests that the HBO Max brand and service will survive into this new service — even if it's under the Discovery Plus branding.

Explaining the HBO Max concerns

So, why were we worried about HBO Max (which we still believe is the best streaming service)? In the midst of plenty of chaos on Tuesday (August 2), with HBO Max's Batgirl movie being canceled after Warner put $90 million into it and the news that six HBO Max original films have disappeared from the service, other shoes started to drop.

Tony Maglio at IndieWire (opens in new tab) then reported there were more cuts to come, and it's all because of the want to cut costs as they merge HBO Max and Discovery Plus. The question, of course is how are they going to merge these two services? 

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, The Wrap (opens in new tab) dropped a shocking new report stating "HBO Max development is expected to be especially hard hit with layoffs with two sources placing the amount of dev staff cuts at 70%." An insider told The Wrap that HBO's "employees are 'all freaking out' and that 'all I know is they're folding HBO Max into HBO, and there will be redundancies.'" 

Some of that could still happen, but we've got less confidence in that report than ever.

Prior to this, all we had heard was a rumor from Beyond The Trailer YouTuber Grace Randolph. Randolph is credited as insider by some (opens in new tab), while James Gunn (opens in new tab) doesn't seem to trust her, to put it politely. And her rumor now seems more true than ever.

The nightmare scenario for HBO Max fans

Ahead of Warner Bros. Discovery's Q2 earnings on Thursday (August 4), Randolph tweeted (opens in new tab) a list of ideas that were "RUMOR re the #WBD presentation." None of these ideas were presented. 

Randolph claimed HBO Max would become a part of Discovery Plus, "probably as #HBO tab" and that the new service would be "getting rid of #HBOMax scripted, overall streaming focusing on unscripted."

The new HBO Max app, tested on an Apple TV 4K

Peacemaker is as confused as we are. (Image credit: Tom's Guide/Henry T. Casey)

This would basically force loyal HBO Max subscribers to buy into a new (likely more expensive) streaming service to keep getting access to the shows and movies they like, while possibly getting less of that content they prefer.

This also doesn't speak to where the licensed HBO Max content — seasons of Friends, the Studio Ghibli movies and much more — would wind up. Inside that new "HBO" tab? Considering that HBO Max's branding is strong at WBD, it feels like that would be the moniker on such a tab.

HBO Max becomes a section in a new app?

What would happen next? The Wrap quotes a Hollywood agent with knowledge of the plans as saying "HBO is very safe. If this was ‘Game of Thrones,’ Casey Bloys won."

Yes, HBO Max just re-invested in the man behind its content: Casey Bloys, HBO and HBO Max's chief content officer. A Variety (opens in new tab) report from July 2022 states that Bloys signed a new five-year contract with Warner Bros. Discovery. But just think like a cost-cutting executive and look at his split titles. Why have him run both HBO and HBO Max's content, when he could just run one?

Cristin Milioti as Hazel Green and Billy Magnussen as Byron Gogol in Made for Love season 2

Made For Love, a recently axed HBO Max show, starred Cristin Milioti as Hazel Green and Billy Magnussen as Byron Gogol. (Image credit: Beth Dubber/HBO Max)

So it seems like Bloys is coming back to run a single team with a likely smaller budget. WBD has been swinging the cancelation axe on a lot of scripted programming, including TNT's Snowpiercer, TBS' The Last O.G. and HBO Max's Made For Love.

Some HBO Max shows could stick around under the HBO brand, as Bloys has publicly said The Flight Attendant season 3 is definitely possible. We're hoping Peacemaker, Harley Quinn, Our Flag Means Death and Hacks are among the shows that survive. 

After the presentation we're more likely to believe that the HBO Max brand is still valuable.

Outlook: What happens next

The big question that Warner Bros. Discovery execs are likely toying with is "which streaming service is more important?" Now that Warner Bros. Discovery has made its Q2 presentation, we get the impression that it values both streaming service highly.

Comparing HBO Max and Discovery Plus is admittedly like comparing apples and pineapples. The former is predominantly made up of scripted programming, and the latter is mostly unscripted content. 

HBO Max

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

At the end of the day, this is Discovery's company now. And it's hard to envision them wanting to make their service a tab inside someone else's app. That said, we'd much rather see a Discovery Plus hub in HBO Max than a HBO tab in the Discovery Plus app. HBO Max seems like a brand that could fit Discovery inside of it, right?

As we knew, a single, new streaming service will be coming to contain both Discovery Plus and HBO Max. The question about which side "wins" will be argued, but for now, it feels like HBO Max is a brand with a future. But this is all optics. What matters more is how much this new service costs (a price hike seems inevitable).

Next: Netflix’s new Woodstock doc is 90% on Rotten Tomatoes — and it's a trainwreck you need to see. Lady Gaga just confirmed for Joker 2 cast — we're not joking. Bodies Bodies Bodies hits 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, looking like a must-see horror movie.

Henry T. Casey
Henry T. Casey

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • FrankieVL
    Well, this is one of the worst rumours I've heard about streaming services in a while. And it's not like there's that much good news out there to begin with.

    I do hope that whichever way they go in terms of the main app (hbo max or discovery) they won't cut funds for the hbo content. Cause I can stomach having to go through the discovery app if there's a dedicated and well funded hbo tab.

    However, if I'm going to have to pay more for a service I don't want, with all the "unscripted" ireality TV shows, and also get less of the content I do like then I'm probably gonna buy myself a bottle of rum and take the high seas ;) I'll figure out a different way to support my favourite shows (buying merch or something of the sorts).
    Reply
  • DrPlanarian
    HBO Max is the best streaming service, both for its top-level programming and for its included channels, most notably TCM. I would really HATE for this to change and I hope that this "rumor" is FUD as I believe it to be.
    Reply
  • Moose and Squirrel
    I have had an annual sub to HBO Max for 11.2 months now, and the impending Discovery content merger looked to blow a little fresh content light into it, since I haven't found much to watch on it lately.

    The first 9-10 months there was regular content that interested me. But the last handful of "blockbusters" wasn't terribly great. I never finished F9, Dune, Batman or the Matrix reboot. Horrible writing.

    I would have continued if I could have delved into Discovery's Food Network offerings and Jeremy Wade's fishing trips.

    I remember a company I worked for that tied itself up in knots over branding and what they were going to call things, with entire projects scrapped because one person refused to go along with what it was called.

    Shame about that, HBO. That company plowed under not long after.

    The only people who care about anything around this want fewer interfaces, fewer services, and better, more persistent content. This is a big step backwards for customers, and two big steps back for HBO.

    I'll drop it at the end of the month, and I won't be going Annual again for the time being. I'll pick it up for a month once a year and catch up.
    Reply
  • Dshowtime718
    I think this is orchestrated to break away from everyone who is grandfathered in a "get free HBO Max deal". Create a new service and you can end all previous agreements.
    Reply